A team of Golden High School students are blasting off again.
Seniors Kyra Jordan and Berlin Sandberg and junior Hana Shiro recently won third place in United Launch Alliance’s annual Student Rocket Launch program.
The competition has students design payloads to be launched in rockets designed by ULA’s college interns. Jordan, Sandberg and Shiro’s payload for the 2023 competition was equipment related to fire risk assessment, including UV radiation, smoke particles and humidity sensors.
The GHS students, who’ve been competing since they were freshmen, competed against about a dozen other K-12 teams from across the country. The teams submitted proposals in February and then assembled their payloads for a July launch near Pueblo.
This year, the three students said the rocket their payload was in got off the ground but later crashed. Thus, they didn’t recover their equipment.
However, as part of the process, they completed a post-launch reflection, which was scored for the competition.
In the years Jordan and Sandberg have competed, they said this was the best they’ve ever placed. The GHS team received its award earlier this semester and decided to donate the $1,000 prize to the school for engineering equipment.
The students said their engineering teacher, Jeremy Swift, first told them about the competition and encouraged them to do it.
Jordan and Sandberg did it the first year with another student and said they’ve built on their designs and past experiences as they’ve returned to the competition. For instance, they said their initial payload design was white and blue, which was hard to see against the sky. So, they opted for red designs in later versions.
Overall, the trio said ULA’s competition has taught them about budgeting, time management and planning and executing their designs. It’s a process very much based in the scientific method — coming up with hypotheses, testing and reevaluating — and the students estimated it takes about 30 hours to complete each year’s project.
Jordan said she particularly appreciates how they’ve been able to build on their designs just like a real-life project versus a singular school assignment. Shiro felt similarly, emphasizing how the competitors must have the initiative to compete on their own time.
Swift, who’s advised them over the years, said he was very proud of the students for all their hard work. He has only had four GHS students — Jordan, Sandberg, Shiro and one other — compete in it, saying it’s hard to amass interest for an independent project over the summer.
But, he emphasized, it’s a unique competition that offers networking opportunities and practical learning experiences. It’s been wonderful to watch the trio’s progress over the years, Swift continued, and he hopes other GHS students will try it.
The two seniors were unsure whether they’d be able to compete again, as they’re both gearing up for college next fall.
Jordan said she’s interested in studying biophysics but hasn’t decided on a specific college yet. Meanwhile, Sandberg’s applied to both the U.S. Naval Academy and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, but she’s also considering Colorado School of Mines.
Although she’s only a junior, Shiro’s already taking college classes. Once she graduates from GHS, she’s considering pursuing a degree in computer science, audio engineering, or both.
The three hoped to see other high school students from Golden and beyond sign up for 2024’s Student Rocket Launch competition. Sandberg said it’s something she’s looked forward to every year, adding, “It’s so cool.”
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